New Meth Drugs seized in Oakland
By SFGate.com – Thursday September 5 2002
The brightly colored pills could be mistaken for candy, especially by the young people they are intended for.
The pills are known as ya ba, a Southeast Asian methamphetamine. And while the drug has not gained a foothold in the East Bay, that is where thousands of doses have been smuggled into the country, federal authorities said.
Earlier this month, U.S. Customs officials in Sacramento arrested 14 people involved in the transport and distribution of the drug, and seized 45 shipments from ships docked at the Port of Oakland and at the U.S. Postal Service’s international mail facility in West Oakland.
Federal agents suspect some of those arrested are also involved in the shipment of opium, which is predominantly used by older Mien and Hmong residents in Northern and Central California.
Investigators were able to match the addresses of previous opium shipments to the destinations of the drugs that were seized two weeks ago, said Dan Lane,
a spokesman for the U.S. Customs office.
“The culture is so closed that after the drugs get here, what happens to them is still a bit of a mystery,” he said.
Although the opium smuggling cases — because of their connections to the immigrant community — have been largely ignored by prosecutors, the new drug, which is often flavored like grape candy, has raised new concerns, Lane said.
“Thai authorities say it’s made the way it is to appeal to young people,” he said.
Used by an estimated 3 million people in Thailand, including truck and taxi drivers, ya ba, Thai for “crazy drug,” produces a longer-lasting euphoric state similar to the popular rave drug ecstasy.
The tablets, made in Burma, are so small they can be hidden in waistbands or a cigarette. The drug is sometimes ingested, but most commonly it is smoked.
In the immigrant community, the drug most often is used by middle-aged men, particularly in the underground gambling operations.
Federal investigators say they are also seeing indications that Mien and Hmong street gangs may be becoming involved in the distribution of the drug.
Narcotics officers in San Francisco and Oakland have not encountered the drug on the street, but the involvement of gangs could change that soon.
“I’ve seen ecstasy sold with alligator symbols or Mercedes-Benz emblems, even color-coded pills, but no ya ba,” said Sgt. Dave Martinovich, a San Francisco police narcotics officer.
NEW LEASE FOR OLD STUFF: After a two-year fight to remain on San Pablo Avenue on the Berkeley-Oakland border, the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse has settled its lease dispute with UC Berkeley.
Under terms of a new lease negotiated in mid-August, the art-supply store, a veritable Ikea store of castaway stuff for the frugal and eclectic, will stay put until January 2006.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although the university agreed to pay legal fees for the store, which is packed with fabric, buttons, spools and bins of plastic bric-a-brac.
The settlement of a June 2001 lawsuit brought by the store came two months before a scheduled trial date. The university served the store an eviction notice in October 2000, when the economy was riding high.
Overcrowding at UC Berkeley caused by earthquake retrofit projects forced the university to consider reusing the four-story building, university officials said.
The store offered to pay twice its $2,500 monthly rent, but that only amounted to half the amount the 4,500-square-foot space was worth on the open market.
As the trial date approached, the store’s attorney urged a settlement, citing the continuing litigation costs and the negative publicity.
“Our lawyer kept saying to their lawyer, ‘We’re rolling up costs here, and the university just looks worse and worse picking on some little nonprofit,’ ” said David Elliott, the reuse center’s board president.
Not to mention that UC has much bigger fish to fry in its lawsuit against fallen energy giant Enron Corp. The UC system lost $145 million in pension funds and endowments when the company collapsed.
Since the dispute began, the biotech firm that occupied the second floor of the university-owned building has left, and the commercial real estate market has cooled down.
The offices that were to be moved during earthquake retrofit work on campus could be relocated to a new building on Hearst Avenue, Elliott said.
After all was said and done, maybe the university realized that having an established retail store that serves artists and teachers and residents is a pretty good tenant after all.